Life on the Isle of California

‘Isle of California’ (1972) by Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, Jim Frazin of the L.A. Fine Arts Squad. Image from

The man across the aisle is wearing a gun. It’s Friday afternoon in April, 1993. I’m in the Santa Monica Laemmle watching ‘Reservoir Dogs’. His coat is caught on the chair arm. The gun is an automatic.

There has been a verdict in the trial of the four LAPD officers charged with violating Rodney King’s Civil Rights.

The officers were previously acquitted of assault charges, resulting in the L.A. Riots. The coroner attributed 60 deaths to the verdict.

I get why he’s carrying a gun after the riots. I went to a range with a friend who was an NRA instructor. I was good with a .45 and a Glock 9. I killed many paper men. But I don’t have the temperament to own a gun.

They are announcing the verdict tomorrow morning. There is a curfew for the weekend – sunset to sunrise.

After the film, the man with the gun waits with me at the corner.

“Excuse me, but I noticed you’re carrying a gun.”

He’s embarrassed. He’s a cop. He’ll lead a group of officers in the field if anything should happen.

I picture him watching Michael Madsen sawing off a cop’s ear with a razor to the music of Steeler’s Wheel.

Saturday morning: convictions of two of the officers for violating Rodney King’s civil rights are announced.

No riots.

On Sunday, Roy Felig and I meet on Santa Monica Boulevard.

There are no pedestrians. No cars.


We walk to Butler. Village Recorders. A famous mural covers the building.

The street beyond the studio is blocked. There’s a guarded gate with large barrels to slow approach.

Beyond the gate – a multi-story building surrounded by a parking lot.

The mural shows Interstate 10 truncated near Blythe, now the water’s edge.

Context – I completely misinterpret ‘Isle of California’ as California falling into the sea.


We wander closer to the mysterious gate. We see two things: a sign informs us this is the Santa Monica Courthouse.

And a sniper on the roof tracking us with a telescopic rifle.